The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Going to Rome? Part 2

A few days ago, I passed along some gratuitous tips on traveling to Rome, and today I intend to subject you to a second round of informative tidbits. This time I'll address some of the things you might want to do at the Vatican. In addition to St. Peter's Basilica there are a number of Vatican "must-sees". The below information assumes that you're not traveling as a member of a tour or pilgrimage group; that is, you are traveling as an individual, a couple, or perhaps two couples.

Roman busts in the Vatican Museums

Vatican Museums. First, you'll want to visit the Vatican Museums, among the most remarkable in the world. There are several options. You can stand in line -- often a very long line -- waiting to purchase individual tickets at the door. You can join a commercial tour group and let them arrange for the tickets and guided tour. Or you can do what we do, and purchase your individual tour tickets online in advance. Then, when you arrive prior to the time of your tour, you can skip the line and join the other individuals and couples who will make up your small tour group. A guided tour (about two hours long) is a good idea, especially for your first visit. The tour guide will introduce you to all the "highlights" of the multiple museums, including a visit to the Sistine Chapel. After the tour you can remain in the Museums and visit specific collections that are of particular interest to you. If you plan to spend more than one day at the museums, you can also purchase individual (no tour) entrance tickets online, thus enabling you to skip that long waiting line once again. For example, some folks purchase tour tickets for one day and regular entrance tickets for the next day. All of this can be done online. Go to the Vatican Museums' web page and take your pick of ticket options:

Individual Tour Tickets
Individual Entrance Tickets (No tour)

Tickets for the tour of the Museums and Sistine Chapel currently cost 30 Euros. The basic entrance ticket (no tour) runs 18 Euros if purchased online. All tickets can be purchased online as much as 60 days in advance.

Gallery in the Vatican Museums

Some tips on visiting the Vatican Museums:
  • Be sure to be on time for your tour. I always try to arrive at least 30 minutes ahead of time.
  • You're also permitted to take photographs inside the museums, but not in the Sistine Chapel.
  • The museums are vast. You would need a week to see everything. To help you select the collections you'd especially like to visit, go to the museums' web site and take their online virtual tours. They're really quite well done. Here's the link: Vatican Museums Virtual Tours.
  • Don't miss the museums' large gift shop, It's a great place to purchase some unique gifts for those hard to please folks back home.
Vatican Gardens. This is another "must-see." Unless you have a well-placed friend who works in the Vatican, the only way to visit the Vatican Gardens is on a tour. The tours consist of small groups and are led by well-qualified and interesting guides. You'll certainly want to take your camera along. You can purchase your Vatican Garden tour tickets when you purchase your tour tickets for the Vatican Museums. Tickets are 30 Euros and can be purchased online on the following page: Vatican Gardens Tour Tickets.

The dome of St. Peter's Basilica from the Vatican Gardens

St. Peter's Basilica. If you've already checked out the ticket web pages I listed above, you probably noticed that you're given two Vatican Museum tour options. One combines the tour of the museums with the Sistine Chapel and the other combines the museums and St. Peter's. I recommend selecting the Sistine Chapel option. You can enter St. Peter's for free pretty much whenever you like and if you have a good guide book you can conduct a self-guided tour.

St. Peter's Necropolis Excavations. There is, however, one additional must-see tour, the tour of the Necropolis beneath St. Peter's Basilica. Taking this tour is the only way you can actually visit the spot where St. Peter was buried by the early Christians. You must purchase tickets in advance because of the limits on the number of people who can go on this tour each day. Here's the link to the Vatican Excavations Office web page that lists all the information you'll need to arrange for a tour. I'd suggest that you make this tour reservation before all others since the tickets are harder to come by and you might not be able to select the specific day of your tour. Be sure to read the entire page before contacting the Excavations Office. You can request the tickets via the email address listed on the page. As I recall the tickets are only 10 Euros.

If you'd like to get a preview of what your will experience on this tour, you can visit the Vatican's online virtual tour of the excavations. Here's the link: Virtual Excavations Tour. It's pretty neat and I recommend viewing it prior to your trip.

Papal Audience. The Holy Father conducts a Wednesday audience at 10:30 a.m. whenever he's in town, so be sure to set aside a Wednesday morning during your stay. Sometimes the audience is held outside in St. Peter's Square, and sometimes inside in the large audience hall. I'm not really sure what criteria are used to make the inside-outside decision. Once, on a fairly cool day in November, we attended an outside audience. And on our next visit, on a very pleasant September day, the audience was held inside.

The crowd at an outdoor Papal Audience (Nov. 2005)

As a deacon I can usually get the "special" seats for my wife and me. I prefer the outside audience, because these special seats are actually closer to the Holy Father than the inside seats. Also the photographic conditions are better outside. If you have a clergy friend or if you're in tight with your bishop, you might want to pull all those strings so you can get those special tickets. You're not only closer to the Pope, but the line is much shorter.

Pope Benedict XVI: Papal Audience Nov 2005

I have always obtained my tickets via the North American College (NAC), the theological seminary in Rome for Americans studying for the priesthood. Here is a link to their page describing how to obtain tickets to a papal audience: North American College. You can request your tickets via email ( or call the NAC at the number listed on the web page. One important point: The NAC does not deliver or mail tickets. You must pick them up at the NAC the day before the audience between 3 and 7 p.m. The address (including a map) is listed on their website.

Masses. With so many basilicas and churches, you have lots of choices of where to attend Mass. I recommend you choose a different church each day and time your visits accordingly. Here's a link to a site providing the Mass times for many of Rome's leading churches: Mass Times.

That's enough for now. Next time I'll branch out and address some of the other places you might want to visit while in Rome.


  1. Eagerly waiting to goto Rome. There many great places to watch. Looking forward to buy tickets. Thank you for sharing the information about the tour tickets.

  2. Wow!! its amazing !! lovely!! its a attractive Tourist hub , i would like to enjoy Rome small group tours!! Thanx for sharing excellent informations. I’m impressed by the details that you have on this blog

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